Walter Smith III - tenor saxophone
Matthew Stevens - guitar
Linda May Han Oh - double bass
Micah Thomas - piano
Nate Smith - drums
Recorded at Atomic Sound (May 14/15 2019)
Engineered by Fernando Lodiero
Mixed by Zach Brown
Mastered by Joe Laporta
Produced by Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens
Executive Producer - Michael Janisch
Photography by Jati Lindsay
Graphic Design by Monika S Jakubowska
Inside original artwork by Macie & Carter Smith
released May 15, 2020
ABOUT THE ALBUM
Long time musical associates Walter Smith III and Matthew Stevens perform in a multiplicity of projects at the vanguard of the international jazz & improvised music scene, touring and recording with Esperanza Spalding, Ambrose Akinmusire, Christian Scott, Terence Blanchard, Dave Douglas, Terri Lyne Carrington, Bill Stewart and Roy Haynes as well as their own respective groups.
They first collaborated in 2017, gathering a wish-list band of musical peers, booking a studio, and presenting them with compositions written for the occasion. The resulting album was widely praised for its freshness and spontaneity and they’ve returned with ‘In Common 2’ to explore the same parameters, adjusting the personnel to produce an intriguingly different but equally dynamic album. “We loved the way it turned out” says Smith “We had the opportunity to do something different together: what I like to call ‘One Page Songs’ - simple forms, so that we can just show up and get to the music quicker.” As in the first project, Smith and Stevens picked a selection of their favourite rhythm section players of mutual acquaintance - Linda Oh on bass and Nate Smith on drums - plus a player from a different generation, so that rising piano star Micah Thomas takes the place of Joel Ross’ vibes. The material was specially written to suit the character of the resulting band, favouring short, concise statements of melody - ‘We’re trying to do something different from what we’d do on our own. We’re going off what we imagine the band will sound like, and continuing to focus on being direct, melodic and interactive.”
‘Roy Allan’, the only non-original was included as a homage to its composer, the late lamented Roy Hargrove, performed as a brief heartfelt duet. ‘Lotto’ is a collective improvisation from a theme by Stevens with a thrilling dialogue between him and Smith that ends in a fortuitous perfect unison. ‘Cowboy’ was humorously explained by Stevens to Nate Smith as an ‘open, cowboy feel’ and the name stuck. A loping bass groove provides a trance-like backing for textured and expressive playing by all. Smith’s composition ‘Clem’ derives its central imagery from his love of super- immersive, character driven video games: Clem herself is an orphan child who grows up into a fearless zombie-killing adult over the course of the game Walking Dead, and the song maps the arc of her journey from innocence to kick-ass. Video games also provided the inspiration for ‘Van De Linde’, written by Smith for a character from Red Dead Redemption - ‘a nefarious guy who works on many levels. It’s written in 5/4 with 5/8 cycles hidden within it - kinda like the character’s secret agenda!’ - while ‘Little Lamplight’ is inspired by the post-apocalyptic game scenario of Fallout 3 - starting with a simple, muted statement and building into a towering climax.
‘General George Washington’ was constructed by Smith around a nagging two-note riff that suggests a playground taunt, reflecting his ambivalence towards the slave- owning Father Of The Nation. Stevens wrote ‘Provinces’ to evoke his childhood in Canada through its carefully paced melody, exploring both remembered and imagined landscapes from his past. By contrast, he wrote ‘Opera’ while on a recent tour with Esperanza Spaulding: “I wanted to write something piano-driven and dramatic, and what’s more dramatic than opera?” Smith drew his inspiration for ‘Type Rider’ from Brad Meldhau’s video for ‘Highway Rider’ - a vision of driving down a California highway into a limitless freedom.
In Common 2 manages to be at once free and highly structured, melodically accessible yet thoroughly contemporary. With many of the songs recorded in a single take, the album highlights the inventiveness and immediacy of a shared vernacular spoken in a vital corner of New York’s music community.
"Structure doesn't box the music in though. If anything, it seems to energise the rhythm section, which in turn brings out the bestow Stevens and Smith."
★★★★ 1/2 DownBeat Magazine
"Smith engages the song-like context with concise hook-y motifs and weaves his sax around them while Stevens takes charge with his assertive, grungy less-is-more brand of jazz rock."
★★★★ Jazzwise Magazine
"There is continuity and natural evolution... A very successful second recording that bodes well for a third."
New York City Jazz Record
"A wide range of influences arrive unself-consciously in the music... Both the leaders and their sidepeople are blending them into interesting amalgams that sound perfectly natural and very timely."
Wall Street Journal
"Smith and Stevens are the leaders and star attractions, but their best decisions seem to be about the company they keep."
Jazz Times Magazine
"Short, simple forms that focus on melodic immediacy, allowing the band to stretch out in interesting ways."
"On this new release, they [Walter Smith III and Matthew Stevens] keep things fresh with a new top lineup."
"At once free and highly structured, melodically accessible yet thoroughly contemporary, mostly pensive in tone and textured rather simply and beautifully."
"Captures the momentum of modern jazz music becoming increasingly free within the dense structure of composition. The original pieces are modern, melodic, and accessible... Insightful playing within a variety of musical landscapes."
All About Jazz
"Listening to In Common 2 is brisk and bracing, a set of pleasures that are hip and smart enough to tickle you and interest you, both."
"The pretty counterpoints ("Roy Allan"), skillful voice crossings ("Lotto"), energetic unison ("General George Washington"), sinuous chorus ("Provinces") and dynamic question and answer ("Type Rider") show that Smith III and Stevens have truly 'found' each other."
Jazz à bâbord
"'In Common 2' highlights the inventiveness of a shared musical language."
"In Common 2 is replete with magnificent ideas."
"In Common 2 is a stirring mix of structure and improv, funk and free-form – a useful update on where some of New York’s most creative players are headed."
London Jazz News
"In Common 2 is a masterclass in how to put together a cohesive and dynamic band performing original music."
"Sharp-as-a-tack follow-up to the well-received In Common; this will appeal to a broad range of jazz lovers."
"A wonderful jazz album with compositions recorded with lots of fun and love."
★★★★ Written in Music
“Exploratory and improvisatory, expanding the jazz idiom in lovely and surprising
"In Common II is one of those rare albums in jazz most notable for its group sound and collective concept."
"This album makes an excellent case for Smith to be one of the most important of this generation’s tenor saxophonists."
"This is music where the art of the improviser pulls the rug from beneath the melody, and unity of band playing where this never derails the rhythm and timing of the songs."
“In Common 2 manages to be free and yet highly structured, melodically accessible and yet contemporary.”
Rhein Main Magazine
“Stevens maps out vivid sonic landscapes with his guitar playing.”
Tough to pick a favorite track here. This is a great band who obviously have many hours together under their belts. The group takes metric modulation and polyrhythmic ensemble playing to a level I have not heard before in jazz. Outstanding! duane_harvey